by David Gentiles

First of all, God was in the house on Sunday -- and I don’t mean to use that as a flippant, hip, jargon-y commentary on Sunday’s service. One of the things your worship team tries to do as we plan worship every week is to purposefully leave room for God to step outside our puny little worship plan and do His thing… He went crazy on Sunday. So when that kind of thing happens Rick or I (I just happened to be scheduled to talk on Sunday) have to be ready to shorten, or in the case of this week, scrap completely, what we had planned to say. So here’s my shot at filling you in on some of the things I was going to say using the passage in Luke 19 about Zachaeus. As is my custom, I use narrative form, taking advantage of the information we have from the scriptures and historical record, but frankly, to tell a complete story, sometimes you have to fill in the blanks. So some of this I don’t know to be the way it was (but I’m not sure anyone could guarantee that it didn’t happen this way)… I won’t say something that I definitively know is not true, but some things are open to speculation and that’s where I’m headed with this little story… So here we go…

“He was embarrassingly wealthy. I was going to tell you that all of his friends just called him Zach…but the truth is he didn’t have many friends…at least not many who would admit it in public. Even his colleagues, fellow society pond scum (tax collectors), didn’t dare to get too chummy, because he was a high-roller in the tax-collector world…Luke refers to him as a “chief” tax-collector, so while all of the human resources decisions were made by the Romans…these wannabees were taking no chances, they were all standing in line for the opportunity to have his corner office. The other part of Zach’s bio that Luke mentions is that he was small of stature…he was a short man…which strikes me as curious, because first century middle-eastern men would not have been very tall anyway. Zachaeus was short…freakishly short. His area of administration was the Jericho area, just northeast of Jerusalem. He did not grow up there…His family moved to the seaport village of Joppa (remember the port that Jonah fled to in order to escape the call of God to preach in Ninevah?) when he was small…actually young…he ended up being small all of his life). Then one day his dad, who was a sailor, pulled out of port, and his ship never returned. So, in addition to putting up with the teasing and ridicule that can be so common among children, he didn’t have a dad to mentor or apprentice him into a future trade. One day as a teenager he stormed into the current tax-collectors office/stall to object to the completely outrageous amount of money that was being demanded from his widowed mother and refused to leave until he got satisfaction. He so impressed the guy that he was invited to come back and work for food as his errand boy. Zach was good at what he did, and quickly learned how to turn his bitterness and disappointment at a world that had stolen his dad, forgotten his mother, and labeled him as a freak, into the motivation to take whatever he needed to get whatever he wanted from the people around him. The Romans took notice as well and they made the same arrangement with him that they made with all of their employees. We expect this much from your region…you charge whatever you need to match that amount…then you can charge whatever you want on top of that to make your living…we don’t care…we just want our money. Zach actually started out trying to be fair…mostly because he remembered how tough it was on his mom when the tax demands were unreasonable and excessive… but quickly he found out that people resented him no matter what he charged. They still made snide remarks about his size, his heritage, his aberrant sexual relationships with the Romans…you get the picture…until he just decided to turn off his heart.

But, while is heart was empty, his money purse became full. He built his mom a beautiful, spacious house on the seacoast in Joppa, and himself a terrace home in Jerusalem, while renting a small house that served as his headquarters when he went to check on business in Jericho. It was while he was there in Jericho that he heard the talk that the Galilean rabbi, Jesus, was passing through town on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover. He knew of this Jesus…not personally…but by reputation. One of his tax-collector underlings, Levi, or Matthew as some called him, had just walked away from his collecting responsibilities without the slightest warning a several years ago, saying that he had found the Messiah (like he hadn’t heard that before) and Zachaeus was the one who had to clean up he mess in Galilee by promoting an assistant who wasn’t really ready to handle the responsibility alone. He also had heard the stories about healings and run-ins with the religious leaders (that part he liked), but the most fascinating aspect of the stories surrounding this peasant preacher, was that he cared…really cared for the plight of those who had been forgotten, over-looked, disenfranchised, and written-off. The latest word was that he had actually raised a friend of his from the dead…buried, in the tomb, starting to stink, wrapped head-to-toe dead. Very impressive…unless you were a Pharisee or Jewish religious leader…you raise people from the dead and you go from being interesting or bothersome to dangerous…execute-ably dangerous. So Zach made his way to the road that merchants and travelers used to make their way to Jerusalem, but to his surprise he found that there was already a crowd of folks waiting to get a glimpse of Jesus as well. His mind went back to his childhood in Joppa when important people came to town or dignitaries would arrive at the port. The villagers would line the streets, but Zachaeus, like most kids was too small to see over the adults. He had no dad to boost him up on his shoulders so he did the next best thing…he found a tall sycamore tree near the road and scooted up the trunk…which was quite a talent, because the bark of the sycamore is relatively smooth and doesn’t give you much to hang in to. He wondered whether he could still climb in his old age, with his fine Persian cloak on, and whether there was even a tree close enough to the road to be useful. He spotted one several yards back from the crowd, looked around sheepishly, then shinnied up the tree (he could still climb with the best of them) and waited for Jesus to pass.

The once tiny entourage that followed Jesus had grown since the raising of Lazarus, until now it was a small unruly mob. The twelve disciples closely encircled him as he walked, functioning as his personal bodyguards. As they neared Jericho, they readied themselves against the press of the crowd to get near to touch or speak to Jesus. What was once a casual encounter with curiosity seekers had become mob control. Andrew, ever the observant one, was the first to spot the well-dressed miniature man (he thought it was a child at first) sitting in the branches of a nearby tree about 30 yards up the road. Everyone began to snicker at the thought of such a sight, until Levi remarked, ‘I know him…I worked for him…I’d recognize him anywhere…that’s the chief tax-collector…that’s Zachaeus!’

Well you know the rest of the story…Jesus walked to the base of the tree, called Zachaeus by name and invited himself to Zach’s for dinner. It sent shockwaves through the crowd…it was a sign of respect to offer to eat with someone and Jesus was doing it on purpose. Zach’s response was one of openness, generosity and repentance. Jesus declared that salvation had come to the house of Zachaeus. He stayed for just a while…they ate very well that day…as a matter of fact, Zach sent his servant into town to get plenty more food, and had him hand it out to the crowd that had followed Jesus to Zach’s house and were hanging out around the gates. They talked about his mom and dad and Joppa, about his business, about what the Roman’s were really like to work for…and right before he left he asked Zachaeus if he knew of someone he could borrow a young donkey from when he got to the outskirts of Jerusalem. Zach was never the same… he spent several more years as chief tax-collector, then he moved back to Joppa…and began planting hundreds of sycamore trees along the roadway…just in case another kid, or vertically challenged tax-collector might need to meet the Messiah.”

Listen to the Service

Today's Program

Gathering Our Spirit to God’s Spirit 

The yarn extravaganza continues…

  • “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova plays 
  • A Journeyer steps up to light the lamp and another rings the bell
  • Rick welcomes folks and has us breathe… updates our progress in our Lenten series

Worshiping with Our Children

  • A Journeyer leads our children in talking about how remembering how God or our parents or friends were there for us in challenging or scary times in the past may be just the thing that allows us to have the confidence to step out there and trust that we will be okay when we begin new things or try again to do things we have failed at in the past. 
  • David reminds the community, while the children are still gathered, about the new playground for our children, and how our community can pitch in to help purchase and build it

From Our Spirit to God’s Spirit

  • Leslie makes announcements
  • A Journeyer reads Exodus 20:1-2
  • Renee leads the community in singing
  • Two Journeyers read a dramatic dialogue
  • Rick leads a community discussion
  • A Journeyer reads Luke 19:1-10

Giving -- To Help God Do God’s Work in This World  

  • The Journey Lent Blog video runs as the ushers pass and collect the offering baskets and bring them to the cross

Telling The Story and Our Story

  • Laura sings “Wait and See” and tells her story
  • David talks
  • David leads the community in an opportunity to think and meditate on the patterns and designs they see in the yarn web above them
  • Several Journeyers share their stories, observations and feelings

We Go Out to Serve with Mercy and Grace

  • Rick leads the community in reciting together (on the screen) a closing benediction 
God, we remember that you are the Lord our God, and it was you who brought us out of the land of bondage and slavery. We can depart this week in peace, because, just as you were with Moses, so you will be with us -- you will never fail or forsake us. Because of that promise, we can be strong and courageous, we can face our fear and worry, we can trust that you are with us wherever we go. Thank you, thank you, thank you.  
And all of Journey said AMEN!
  • Rick dismisses
  • “Falling Slowly” plays again as folks leave